Although I overall liked the Warner Bros. Games Montreal-developed Batman game, many of the criticisms I’ve seen are completely legitimate. In particular, it can often feel like a chore, filled with tedious stretches of grinding and frequently bland mission design. As a result, I can totally see why people might pass on it, especially since it’s an $89.99 title.
While playing Gotham Knights and reflecting on the response, I’ve started to think about what I want from the next Batman game. After all, Gotham Knights is the first AAA title focused on the Caped Crusader’s world since Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight in 2015, outside of the underrated choose-your-own adventure Telltale games. What do we even hope to get out of a Batman game? Of course, the answer will vary depending on the fan, but as I’ve been mulling this over, there’s one particular take on The Dark Knight that I’ve always loved and think could be a big hit in game form. Yes, I’m talking about Batman Beyond.
When the animated series premiered on TV in 1999, it was — and still remains — unlike anything else from Batman’s universe. Bruce Wayne was Batman no more — instead, he’s become a bitter, frail old man who’s isolated himself from everyone else. In his place comes a new, rougher-around-the-edges Dark Knight — a troubled teen named Terry McGinnis. Lacking Bruce’s years-long ninja training, Terry dons a high-tech Batsuit to take on crime in the futuristic Neo-Gotham. This story — a continuation of the legacy of the brilliant Batman: The Animated Series that sees Kevin Conroy’s Bruce become a mentor to Will Friedle’s Terry — resonated with many and has since become a fan-favourite part of the Batman mythos. Indeed, it’s an outstanding show in its own right, filled with sharp writing, excellent animation, top-notch performances and one of the Batman movies ever in Return of the Joker. It’s also just perfect for a game.
A different kind of Batman story
Certainly, one of the most appealing aspects of Gotham Knights was that WB Montreal legitimately tried to do something different from Arkham — or, really, any previous Batman game — by focusing on Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl and Red Hood. It was a smart way to give us a unique story that didn’t rely on Bruce Wayne and instead fleshed out his supporting cast, often referred to as the “Bat Family.” With a Batman Beyond game, though, that could be explored in even greater depth.
Taking cues from Spider-Man, Terry is a teenaged hero who has to juggle school with crimefighting duties. For him, donning the suit offers a way to atone for his rough childhood, and it’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly. While the tragedy of Bruce Wayne undoubtedly connects with people, Terry’s struggles as an angsty teen definitely made him more universally relatable. This type of coming-of-age tale, coupled with a grittier tone than teenage-focused works like Spider-Man or Ms. Marvel, would be a kind of story we’ve never gotten in any superhero game, Batman or otherwise. Another highlight of the show was delving deeper into the psychology of Bruce Wayne, particularly through the regrets and lessons he’s come to in his old age, and that would make for an added hook to the game. It’s especially easy to see how the compelling Terry-Bruce dynamic could really thrive over the course of a 10- to 20-hour game.
Batman Beyond could also take the Bat Family even further than Gotham Knights. In that game, we see the team struggling to come into their own following the death of Bruce Wayne, but what about many years down the line, when they’ve long been removed from Bruce’s life? The Batman Beyond series gave us some tantalizing looks at this, like Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) becoming Commissioner and a begrudging ally to Terry, or Tim Drake (Robin) struggling to escape the lingering hold of Joker-induced trauma. But of course, Batman Beyond could only cover so much ground, and a game could give us what we never saw on the small screen, such as an older Dick Grayson/Nightwing, Jason Todd/Red Hood or even Bruce’s son, Damian, who was introduced years after the show ended. (And before other nerds mention it — I know there were Batman Beyond comics that have since covered such material, but I’d still like to see it adapted.)
And considering the Arkham series proved to be a spiritual successor of sorts to Batman: The Animated Series thanks to returning voice talent like Conroy and Mark Hamill (Joker) and writer Paul Dini, a Batman Beyond game would benefit from doing something similar. Bring back Conroy as Bruce and Friedle as Terry, plus Dini — one of the all-time great Batman writers — in any creative capacity would significantly elevate a potential Batman Beyond game. Kristopher Carter returning for another incredibly badass rock-inspired score would also be wonderful and help give a Batman Beyond game its own feel.
A night in Neo-Gotham
On top of Terry and Bruce’s story, Batman Beyond‘s setting is just ripe with potential. As well-crafted as Rocksteady and WB Montreal’s Gothams are, they don’t feel drastically different from one another, or, for that matter, those we’ve seen from the likes of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy or Matt Reeves’ The Batman. But Neo-Gotham, a sweeping metropolis filled with towering techno skyscrapers, flying cars and cybernetically enhanced people? Well, that would be something new.
Neo-Gotham also gives Batman Beyond a wickedly cool cyberpunk vibe, something that’s proved popular in recent years thanks to the likes of Blade Runner 2049, Cyberpunk 2077 and Cyberpunk Edgerunners. In fact, the Edgerunners anime was such a hit that it gave Cyberpunk 2077, a game once plagued by controversy, a record number of new players. Clearly, there’s an audience for more cyberpunk, and Batman Beyond would be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Free from the limitations of a 22-minute children’s cartoon, a Batman Beyond game could also explore the subgenre in ways the show never could. Take the “splicers,” people who genetically altered their DNA to gain characteristics of animals — the show didn’t really present them as anything other than perverse freaks of nature. While you can’t really fault a Kids WB show for that simplicity, a more mature game in that universe could take the time to explore transhumanism with more nuance. The highly advanced drugs and dangerous technologies like mechs could also be expanded upon, such as trippy sequences in the vein of Cyberpunk 2077‘s braindances.
Flying high and fighting dirty
Terry’s relative inexperience provides ample room for gameplay opportunities. Chief among them, it solves the classic Metroid problem of Samus losing all her gear at the start so she can gradually get more powerful again as she retrieves it. Naturally, Terry would only get stronger as he gets trained by Bruce and maybe even other allies like Barbara or Dick. His less refined form of brawling — which the Joker once said was “dirty” — should also help differentiate his playstyle from anything we’ve seen in Arkham or Gotham Knights.
It would also allow you to focus more on the unique aspects of Terry’s suit. No need for gliding anymore — we could actually fly around an open-world with the Batsuit’s retractible wings and thrusters. If we even wanted, we could have the Beyond version of the Batmobile, which can also fly, although fans may still be burned after Arkham Knight‘s controversial take on the vehicle.
Meanwhile, since Terry’s not as capable of a fighter as Bruce, stealth could be a more viable option, especially with his suit’s camouflage, presumably with a cooldown like the similar power featured in Miles Morales. That would be especially important considering all of the deadly and unprecedented enemy types we could get from splicing, cybernetics and the like. That’s to say nothing of the fun futuristic spins we could get on bigger villains, whether that’s original series creations like the Venom-esque Inque and radioactive Blight or classics like Harley Quinn, Scarecrow or the Penguin. Just look at how masterfully Batman Beyond brought Mr. Freeze’s tragic story into the future as an example of the promise here.
Sidequests-wise, the game could lean into Terry being in high school to give us missions related to the kinds of everyday problems we saw in the show, like bullying and child abuse. It wouldn’t have made much sense to see Bruce Wayne dealing with that sort of thing in the Arkham games, but it would feel right at home for Terry. The final episode of the show, for example, involves Terry sharing a sweet anecdote about the he revealed his identity to a kid to help gain his trust and save him. Another episode showed Terry and his friends trying to help out a nerdy guy who was perpetually picked on. The possibilities for charming and emotionally-charged slice-of-life stories here are endless.
This is the (sch)way
Who’s to say what we’ll next get in terms of Batman games? Gotham Knights definitely didn’t pan out exactly as anyone had hoped, and it’s unclear how that might have changed plans. I also wouldn’t even know which developer would take on the next title. But it’s always nice to dream, and after seeing Gotham Knights‘ admirable-but-ultimately-disappointing efforts, I’d like to see something different. A Batman Beyond game would be just that, and hopefully, someone takes that on.
Image credit: DC